by Jon Pelto from Wait, What
A case study on how the Corporate Education Reform Industry is trying to buy up American Democracy
A Better Connecticut, the charter school advocacy group formed by the present and previous CEOs of ConnCAN, the charter school lobby group, has spent $50,708 so far in support of the endorsed slate of candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education.
The endorsed slate is the group loyal to Mayor Bill Finch, Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s education reform initiatives.
A Better Connecticut’s “independent” expenditure is part of a broader $2 million plus public relations campaign designed to support Governor Malloy and his education reforms. Earlier this year, A Better Connecticut and ConnCAN hired Malloy’s chief advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso and his campaign consulting firm, Global Strategy Group, to poll Connecticut voters about education reform issues and then conduct a multi-million dollar television advertising campaign to “thank” Governor Malloy for his education reforms.
With seven days to go in the Bridgeport Board of Education Democratic Primary, a portion of the $50,000 in expenditures that have been made by A Better Connecticut went to Occhiogrosso and Malloy’s campaign consulting company for what was euphemistically called an “Education Policy Survey.”
A recent public opinion poll conducted in Bridgeport included questions about Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Paul Vallas, members of the Working Family Party who serve as the outspoken minority on the Bridgeport Board of Education and Carmen Lopez, the former Connecticut superior court judge who brought the lawsuit that determined that Paul Vallas lacked the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent of schools in Connecticut. That suit is presently before the Supreme Court for review.
The campaign finance report submitted by A Better Connecticut only reports an expenditure of $2,280 for the poll, but polls of this nature traditional cost in excess of $25,000 leaving one to question who may have actually paid for the poll and why it isn’t reported as an official expenditure in this report.
It appears that in addition to paying Global Strategy Group, A Better Connecticut’s money was used for mailings and voter contact efforts in support of the three endorsed Democratic candidates in the September 10th Democratic Primary; Simon Castillo, Brandon Clark and Kathryn Roach Bukorsky .
Although state laws shields organizations like A Better Connecticut from having to reveal the amount of money they have raised from individual donors, they are required to identify their top five funders.
In this case, A Better Connecticut is claiming that their five largest funders were Education Reform Now Advocacy of New York City, 50CAN Action Fund, Inc. of New York City, Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of Loudonville, New York, Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York City and Students for Education Reform (SFER- Action Network Inc.) of New York City.
A Better Connecticut was created at the beginning of this year by ConnCAN, which was created by the original funders behind Achievement First, Inc.
As readers know, Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor who served on Achievement First’s Board of Directors until he resigned to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.
Education Reform Now – Advocacy is the lobbying and political action arm of Education Reform Now. Education Reform Now claims credit for New Jersey’s draconian anti-teacher tenure law that was designed to undermine the rights of teachers and the teaching profession.
Education Reform Now’s Board of Directors is made up of hedge fund managers Charles Ledley (Highfields Capital Management), John Petry (Sessa Capital), Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo (Covey Capital), Brian Zied (Charter Bridge Capital), John Sabat (SAC Capital). John Petry is not only the former Chairman of Education Reform Now, but was co-founder of the right- wing Democrats for Education Reform and currently serves as a co-chair at the Success Academies network of charter schools.
50CAN Action Fund, Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of 50CAN. 50CAN was created by Jonathan Sackler who not only founded ConnCAN but has been a leading member of Achievement First, Inc. since Pryor and Dacia Toll founded the company. Sackler chairs the 50CAN Board. Other Board members include Dacia Toll (Co-CEO & President, Achievement First), Marc Porter Magee (former COO of ConnCAN), Rebeca Nieves Huffman (State Director, Democrats for Education Reform Illinois), and Richard Barth (CEO & President, KIPP Foundation). Until recently Matthew Kramer, the President of Teach for America served as 50CAN’s Board Chair.
Students for Education Reform Action Network Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of Students for Education Reform. SFER was created by 50CAN and its Board of Trustees includes April Chou (Chief Growth Officer, KIPP Bay Area Schools), Christy Chin, (Portfolio Director, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation), Adam Cioth (Rolling Hills Capital, Justin Cohen, (President, Mass Insight Education School Turnaround Group), Shavar Jeffries, (Newark Public Schools Advisory Board) and Jonathan Sackler (ConnCAN, 50CAN, Achievement First).
Readers will also note that the Board includes Mass Insight, the out-of-state consulting company that Stefan Pryor hired to run Connecticut’s Alliance District and Commissioner’s Network programs at the same time he let go the seven experienced State Department of Education experts including Connecticut four leaders in residence and three retired superintendents.
The other two primary funders of the A Better Connecticut’s Bridgeport campaign are Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc., the lobbying and political arm of Families for Excellent Schools. Families for Excellent Schools is a charter school-funded organizing group that reports to have an organizer in Connecticut although they don’t appear to be registered. Last but not least is a group called Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of New York which doesn’t appear to be registered anywhere but may be Real Reform Now Corporation which was a New York entity that lost its tax exempt status after failing to file the proper reports with the IRS for 3 consecutive years.
Oh, and lest readers forget. Prosperity for Connecticut, a political action committee associated with Governor Malloy has held fifteen fundraisers in Connecticut, New York and Washington D.C. since Malloy took office. Malloy has attended all or nearly all of these events. The most successful was held at the home of Jonathan Sackler who founded or helped create Achievement First, ConnCAN, 50CAN, and Students for Education Reform. Sackler’s successful fundraiser featured contributions from John Petry and his wife (Education Reform Now, DFER, Success Academy Schools) as well as numerous other corporate education reform industry players.
In addition, in the closing days of Finch’s failed charter revision campaign, Sackler provided the charter revision campaign with a check for $50,000.
As we’ll see in the coming days, A Better Connecticut is NOT THE ONLY vehicle Sackler and his friends are using to try and influence the Bridgeport Democratic Primary.
But don’t worry, as the corporate education reform industry likes to explain…”It’s All About The Children.”